Stimulus Bill Has $400 Million in Election Help for States

Alyza Sebenius and Erik Wasson
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Stimulus Bill Has $400 Million in Election Help for States

(Bloomberg) -- The U.S. economic stimulus package will include $400 million to help states grapple with 2020 voting amid the coronavirus pandemic, according to two people familiar with the bill.

The funds would allow states to increase the ability to vote by mail, and expand early voting and on-line registration. The provision would also make in-person voting safer by allowing states to create additional voting facilities and increase the number of poll workers, according to a Senate aide who has seen a summary of the legislation but declined to be identified discussing the matter.

The Trump administration struck a deal early Wednesday with Senate Democrats and Republicans on an historic rescue package with more than $2 trillion in spending and tax breaks to bolster the hobbled U.S. economy and fund a nationwide effort to stem the coronavirus.

The bill does not create a national requirement for voting by mail, which some Democrats had asked for but Republicans objected to. It calls on states to make decisions about how best to prepare voting in 2020.

Some election experts are warning the money in the bill isn’t enough. The Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law School estimates that it will take $2 billion to cover “equipment, supplies, staffing, training, and the other costs of adapting our voting processes to withstand the coronavirus,” according to a statement by its president, Michael Waldman.

The National Association of Secretaries of State is asking Congress “to recognize the necessity for flexible funding to meet each of our specific needs,” according to the group’s president, Paul Pate, and its president-elect, Maggie Toulouse Oliver. “There is no one size fits all approach, but instead a 50-state solution,” they said in a Wednesday statement, which added that increased drive-up curbside voting and absentee voting eligibility could help in some states.

Some states have already moved on their own toward reliance on mail-in ballots. An April 28 special congressional election in Maryland to fill the seat of deceased Representative Elijah Cummings will use only mail-in ballots, with no in-person voting, the state recently announced. And Georgia announced Tuesday it would send absentee ballot requests to all state voters ahead of the state’s May 19 presidential primary, which was postponed from March 24 -- allowing all ballots to be cast by mail to safeguard public health.

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